A Wayland resident has filed an Open Meeting Law complaint against the Board of Selectmen after its abrupt firing of Town Administrator Fred Turkington, and now the state attorney general’s office is considering its own probe.
Meanwhile, residents for and against Turkington’s dismissal, and the way in which it was handled, are expected to come out in force to Monday night’s board meeting, the first since the 3-1 vote on Aug. 26 to fire him.
“Citizens are very concerned and hoping for an open dialogue at our next meeting because so much was left unanswered,’’ said Selectman Joseph Nolan, who cast the vote against dismissing Turkington.
Nolan said he asked the board’s chairman, Douglas Leard, to put time on the agenda for an extended public comment period, and for a board discussion on the implications of the termination, which was done “without cause,’’ and as a result requires the town to pay Turkington a year’s salary as severance pay.
According to the agenda posted on the town’s website, selectmen plan to meet at 6:30 p.m. in executive session to discuss issues including the Open Meeting Law complaint.
The agenda for the public meeting has an extended public comment period at 7:25 p.m., to be followed by a vote to appoint an acting town administrator, and discussions on the interim arrangement and the process for selecting the new town administrator.
There is also a listing, under the acting town administrator’s report slated for later in the meeting, for a response to the Open Meeting Law complaint.
The complaint, filed with the town by resident Kimberly Reichelt, states that the agenda for the board’s Aug. 26 meeting was not clear about what would be discussed. She runs a local news website, Wayland eNews (www.waylandenews.com).
During the board’s agenda item “Review the Town Administrator’s Employment Agreement and Job Description,’’ Selectman Tony Boschetto made a motion to fire Turkington. After some discussion, Boschetto, Leard, and Selectman Ed Collins voted in favor of his dismissal. Selectman Steven Correia, after expressing frustration at the proposal, stormed out of the meeting before the vote, observers said.
Turkington’s firing, after eight years as town administrator, has upset some officials and residents, who say they were blindsided by the motion.
Leard did not respond to questions about Monday’s agenda, but Boschetto said he expects the board will respond to the complaint in a “timely fashion.’’
Boschetto, who was elected to the board in the spring, said he followed what he believed to be the appropriate legal procedure to address the town administrator’s contract, and presented it in a public meeting.
“Unfortunately, in this public forum, the manner in which this decision was made and communicated was the only manner afforded under the law and in accordance with the contract,’’ he said in a statement. “Mindful of the provisions of the Open Meeting Law, I did not share my motion nor discuss my intentions or my thoughts on this matter with any other member of the Board of Selectmen prior to the meeting on Aug. 26.
“I had considered all terms within the contract and was prepared to discuss any of these during our meeting, including but not limited to termination either with or without cause, nonrenewal, and reappointment and discussion on the process for formal evaluation.’’
Boschetto said provisions in the town administrator’s contract for termination without cause preclude him from elaborating on his decision other than saying it was time for a change. He said that, based on discussions at previous meetings, he felt some of his colleagues shared his opinion.
“As I stated, I believed change was essential for us to move in a new direction, which I outlined during my campaign . . . and include a more effective and inclusive Town Meeting, sound budgeting and financial reporting, long-term fiscal planning, responsible public investment, responsible private investment, and, most importantly, leverage the talent of our boards and committees and bring people closer together,’’ he said.
“New leadership will help move us in this new direction.’’
The attorney general’s office has requested interviews with all five selectmen as it considers whether to conduct its own investigation.
Correia and Nolan have already met with representatives from the prosecutor’s office, during separate interviews on Tuesday, and Boschetto said he is scheduling a time and plans to “cooperate fully.’’ Collins said he expects to meet with the AG’s office some time after Monday. Leard did not respond to a request for a comment.
Correia said an official in the AG’s Division of Open Government contacted Wayland’s town counsel, Mark Lanza, over the Labor Day weekend requesting the interviews.
“The meeting was an information-gathering session on the circumstances before and during the meeting,’’ Correia said of his interview. “At this point, no formal investigation has been commenced.’’
The typical process for an Open Meeting Law investigation starts with a complaint to a town body, which has 14 days to respond. If the issue is not resolved, a complaint can be submitted to the attorney general’s office 30 days after the original complaint was filed.
However, the AG’s office has the authority to investigate and prosecute Open Meeting Law violations on its own initiative.
Emalie Gainey, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, confirmed that it is looking into the case because there are some potential concerns about the process.
This is not the first time the Wayland Board of Selectmen has been accused of violating the Open Meeting Law. The attorney general’s office found the board in violation of the law three times since January 2011.
According to the agency’s findings, in January 2011, the board discussed an item in executive session that should have been handled in public; in May 2011, the board met without posting an announcement on the meeting in advance; and in June 2011, the board violated the law by discussing business outside a regularly posted meeting. Correia and Nolan were on the board at the time of all three violations.
Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@ yahoo.com.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, a story in an earlier version of this story contained incorrect information about two of the members approving the motion. Selectmen Douglas Leard and Edward Collins were elected to the board in the spring of 2012.